Tuesday, June 10, 2014

For He Will Save His People

I want to look at one of the ways Matthew makes sense of the cross. Fortunately, Matthew tells gives us his answer up front. His messiah is named Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins”(1:21).

I am going to suggest that Matthew believes Jesus accomplishes this salvation in a three-step process. First, Jesus becomes a surrogate for idolatrous Israel. He is the new Israel, the Israel that rejects the idols of violence and power.

Second, as the faithful Israel, Jesus takes upon himself the natural consequences of her infidelity. With great mercy, God, acting through Jesus, saves His people from the consequences of their sins, utter destruction at the hands of the Romans. The violence and evil of Israel will be the very means through which He accomplishes this.

Third, Jesus sends out his disciples to the ends of the earth to call a new people of God, one which displays devotion through love and mercy. In this new community, cross-shaped love, not the sword, will be the means by which the kingdom is brought to earth.

In regards to the first point, Matthew relates the story of Israel to the story of Jesus in a number of ways. Matthew tells us that Jesus is called out of Egypt as a child(2:21). He is lifted out of the waters of the Jordan, just as Israel was lifted out of the Red Sea(3:16). He is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days without food(4:2). He goes up the mountain to receive and then reveal the Law of God(5:1). Jesus reenacts the story of Israel. In a very important way though, Jesus is different from Israel. He does not go after idols but remains faithful to God.  

Jesus’ final temptation is exemplary of this. When offered all the kingdoms, the very things Israel has desired for so long, he refuses. In this act, Matthew tells us, Jesus worships God alone. He does not succumb to the idols of power and authority. Unlike Israel, he desires only to do the will of God. In her constant pursuit of power, Israel reveals she is not concerned with God. The very expectation of a warrior messiah who will defeat the Romans is a product of this idolatry. Revolt after revolt, she tries to restore her kingdom. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force”(11:12). The logical end to this rebellion will be her destruction; the destruction of the people of God. The means through which God will restore the whole world will be no more. God will fail.

From here we are in a position to make sense of Jesus’ insistence on the cross and his teachings on retaliation. Nonviolence is not just the will of God it is to be the sign of Israel’s devotion to God. The people of Israel are to be peacemakers, love their enemies, and greet those who hate them. They are to be persecuted for righteousness sake. These acts will be the proof of Israel’s rejection of idols. Jesus himself will embody this ethic in the most radical way. He will love his enemies to the point of allowing them to destroy him. Jesus will forgo the wide path of the sword and instead, take the narrow path of the cross. This is his obedience to God. This is the obedience Israel could not accomplish.  

This leads us into the second point. Though he does not take up the sword, he will be punished as if he did. Upon a cross, the scourge of rebels, Jesus will relinquish his life.

At a moment of extreme political tension, Jesus takes the punishment Israel deserved. This was to be the moment of the destruction of Israel. She would receive the wages of her sins. During this Passover, Israel would attempt to restore her kingdom and be forever crushed under the weight of Rome. Barabbas and the two rebels at Jesus’ right and left would be the instigators of this catastrophe.

God though, does not give up on His unfaithful people. Jesus steps into the mess, offering up his body and blood for Israel. At the perfect moment, Israel’s fervor is diverted away from Barabbas and onto Jesus. An entire nation that desires the violent defeat of the Romans calls for the blood of Jesus(27:25), the very blood to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins(26:28). In Jesus’ death peace is secured; unfaithful Israel receives life and forgiveness in exchange for her disobedience.

In addition to saving Israel from her sins, Jesus offers her a new way to be God’s people. A way that leads to life instead of death. She is to seek the Kingdom of Heaven by giving up the desire for power. The pagans will know her as God’s people by her love of mercy, service and humility. This is true devotion to God. This is how the people of God will escape the wrath of the pagans.

For Matthew this is the most important way in which the cross is a moment of great salvation. God’s plan to restore the whole world is not thwarted by the sin of His people. Israel is saved and called to embody Jesus in the world. The cross, and not the sword, is how the kingdom will come. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sit At My Right Hand

In the Gospel of Mark, a chair is not simply a chair. Rather, the seat one takes is the indicator of one’s social worth. At each meal, everyone takes his proper place at the table. The powerful sit with the powerful in the highest positions and the weak sit with the weak in the lowest positions. To sit in a better seat is to demand respect from those below you.

Naturally, the characters in the Gospel desire the highest seats. Thinking that Jesus will receive the seat above all others as Messiah, the disciples come to him asking for thrones on his right and left. As friends of the king of Israel, they expect to receive the very best seats, seats above those of the current rulers of Israel, the priests and the scribes.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”(Mark 10:35-45).

James and John have no idea what it means to sit at Jesus’ left and right in glory. Just as the scribes who like to have the “best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at the banquets”(12:39), the disciples likewise desire to take seats above others. They want to be powerful and respected too. Jesus responds by redefining greatness, or rather, by correctly defining greatness. Being great means taking the worst seat, putting one’s self last. One who is great renounces power and refuses praise from men.    

This error of the disciples stems from a misunderstanding of the Messiah. They, along with the scribes, believe he will be a king as David was a king. He will be a son of David in the sense that he will rule Israel, and then the world, as a political and military tyrant. The scribes use psalm 110 to support this vision of the Messiah. In typical fashion, Jesus turns the scripture against them.

“Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’
David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

Jesus’ claim is that the Messiah will be greater than David. David himself calls the Messiah “Lord.” If a son inherits the traits of his father, the Messiah will not be a son of David. The Messiah is someone entirely different. Do not expect another king like David.

This does not mean that Jesus does not fulfill the scriptures.  It means that he fulfills them in an entirely new and unexpected way. Jesus will sit in the greatest seat, the one at the right hand of God, but few will notice it. His seat will be the cross.

From the cross, Jesus’ enemies are put under his feet.

Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the Temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’(15:29-30)

The word used for “come down” in this verse is καταβαίνω. Κατα means “down” and βαίνω is a verb for “go” or “step.” It is closely related to the word for foot, βάσις. If Mark wished to convey a simple going down he could have used κατέρχομαι which has no relation to feet or the act of stepping. Through this choice of καταβαίνω, Mark suggests that Jesus was asked to step down from his cross by his enemies. The mocking voices come from below Jesus’ feet. The rulers of Israel have truly seen “the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”(14:62).

In choosing the lowest seat in the world, the seat reserved for slaves and criminals, Jesus has chosen the greatest seat in the Kingdom of God. Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus means sitting in the worst seat. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Resurrection Now?

Those who believe Colossians and Ephesians were not written by Paul often appeal to their teachings on resurrection. On this issue, it seems these letters do not match the undisputed Pauline letters. While Romans and 1 Corinthians speak of resurrection as a future hope, Colossians and Ephesians present resurrection as a present reality for those believe. For this reason, most scholars consider Colossians and Ephesians to not be from the hand of Paul.

The evidence is rather convincing. In Romans 6, Paul is careful to show that believers have only experience Christ’s death, not yet his resurrection.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Chris Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”(6:3-8).

The closest Paul comes to proclaiming a present resurrection in his undisputed letters is also in Romans. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”(6:11). They must consider themselves to be risen despite the fact that the resurrection has not yet come.

In the Letter to the Colossians though, this language of future glory is absent. Instead, the resurrection is spoken of as already having taken place. “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead”(2:13).
One writer preaches a baptism into death, and another writer a baptism into death and into life.

One method of arguing for the authenticity of Colossians and Ephesians is to say that Paul’s theology developed over the course of his life. The undisputed letters then, represent an earlier theology of baptism and resurrection while the “disputed” letters represent a latter development in his thought.
Those who find this argument convincing will also often claim that the Pastoral Letters of Paul, including 2 Timothy, are similarly authentic. The problem with this is that 2 Timothy, a letter which claims to be written in the last days of Paul’s life, attacks those who believe the resurrection has already occurred.

“As for me, I am being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”(2 Timothy 4:6-7).

“Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place”(2 Timothy 2:17-18).

If one were to only have the Letter to the Colossians, he could not be blamed for believing that the resurrection had already occurred. The writer of 2 Timothy has set out against just such teachings.

It seems, then, that Paul could not have written both Colossians and 2 Timothy. Either his theology developed later in his life as is seen in Colossians and Ephesians, or he remained adamant that believers had not yet experienced resurrection. If 2 Timothy is authentic, then even in his last days Paul was teaching against this false doctrine of present resurrection. It would be truly perplexing if all of these letters were by the same person. What other ways are there to make sense of them? 

The Word Became Flesh

Though he does not mention it explicitly, John begins his gospel with the cross. He looks ahead to the cross as the light’s decisive victory over the darkness. The darkness will seek to destroy the light, but the light will not be overcome(1:5).

These cosmic entities of light and darkness are not just abstractions for John. They are human characters. Jesus is the light and Satan is the darkness. Jesus is life, Satan is death. The setting is likewise not some cosmic plane. Our own world is both the stage in which they do battle and the prize for which they fight. Jesus, the awaited Messiah and rightful king of the world, has overcome the present “ruler of the world.” The darkness has been lifted.

As Jesus’ time draws near, he speaks to his disciples of the fate of the current ruler.

“Now is the judgment of the world; now the ruler of the world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die(12:31-32).

This casting out of Satan is the reason Jesus has come into the world. In defeating the one who holds the power of death, Jesus himself will seize eternal life. Death will no longer have any authority over his body.

It is this defeat of Satan that allows John to write of the cross as being for others. Everything Jesus gains, will be declared to those who believe(16:15). In attaining eternal life then, Jesus gives eternal life to those who believe. Jesus bears the cross so that all people might obtain eternal life(3:16).

For John, the flesh of Jesus is a necessity for this imputation of his eternal life to others. Jesus’ victory is of no use to flesh and blood if he himself is not flesh and blood. His body and our body must be of the same kind for us to receive his eternal body.

This is the primary way in which the writer understands the cross. Jesus has defeated the one who holds authority over death and in doing so achieved an eternal body. Any who eat of his flesh will receive the body that Jesus won(6:51).    

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Glorification of the Son of God

The raising of Lazarus is a strange story. Jesus could have prevented his friend’s death but chooses not to. He intentionally remains where he is for two days after hearing his friend is sick(11:6). Upon arriving, Martha, Lazarus’ sister, tells Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”(11:21).

Why would Jesus let him die? No one wants to die. The answer Jesus gives can be troubling. “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that Son of God may be glorified through it”(11:4). Has Jesus let his friend die merely so that he can display his power? So that people can come to believe in him?

While this is clearly a part of the reason(11:42), the glorification of the Son of God Jesus speaks of represents something quite different.

For John the evangelist, the raising of Lazarus serves as the impetus for the arrest and execution of Jesus by the chief priests and Pharisees(11:53). After this sign, they fear “everyone will believe in him(Jesus), and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation”(11:38).  It is not the incident in the Temple, as in the Synoptic Gospels, but this resurrection that sets into motion Jesus’ demise.

John believes that this demise is the very way in which Jesus will be glorified. The cross is the instrument of his glorification. This can be seen clearly in a couple passages.

During the last day of the Festival of Booths, Jesus proclaims that all who come to him will receive rivers of living water. This water is the Spirit, which was to come after Jesus is glorified(4:39). It is only until after his death and resurrection that Jesus breathes out his spirit onto the disciples(20:22).
The night before his death, Jesus begins his Farewell Discourse with the words, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”(12:23). This hour, he tells his disciples, troubles him(12:27).

Jesus does not orchestrate the raising of Lazarus merely so that others may believe. He orchestrates it so that he will be glorified through the outrage of the religious authorities. By raising Lazarus, Jesus clears a path by which he may be glorified. Glorified on a cross.

Election: A Blessing to All

Paul has a serious problem. The Gentiles in Rome are wondering why Israel has rejected her Messiah, her king. Is this not a sign that God has abandoned His people? Has the promise God made with Abraham been broken? If so, what’s to say God won’t abandon the Gentiles too? How can an unfaithful God be trusted?

Paul begins answering these questions by directing his readers’ attention to the story of Abraham. Why did God call him?

Ever since sin and death entered the world, God has desired to remake the world. This desire led God to call a people through whom creation might return to its former glory. God called Abraham and his descendants so that the whole world would be blessed(Genesis 22:18). God was going to reign on earth as he had in the beginning. Through Israel He would accomplish this. But now that Israel has rejected her Messiah, Paul says the Gentiles will carry on the promise given to Abraham.

Knowing this background allows us to better read the Letter to the Romans. Certain traditional readings should be rethought. For instance, God’s crafting of vessels of wrath is not an indication that God has predestined some to eternal hell(9:22-23). Likewise, the hatred God has for Esau before his birth does not represent God’s unconditional hatred for the non-elect(9:13). Instead, these comments are aimed at convincing Gentiles that they should not be proud of their current position as God’s elect. Whom God elects, is entirely up to God. The Gentiles, just as Israel before, did nothing to deserve it. At certain times God has used one people and not the other to carry out his purposes. Being called is not something to boast of(11:18).

The Gentiles would now fulfill the promises made to Abraham. They would be the people through whom God would reign as king on earth. This understanding of God’s promise to Abraham is crucial to understanding the letter. The election Paul writes of is not for the sake of the elect, but for the sake of the world.

God’s intention was always to bring all people into His family. Even Israel will not be estranged from God for long. Paul is certain Israel will return to her God. Though it appears God has given up on Israel, Paul says God never breaks his promises. “And so all Israel will be saved”(11:26). The Gentiles, as well as the Jews, will at one point participate in God’s restoration of the world as His elect.

The Sign of Jonah

In the Book of Acts, Luke describes the early Church as being one in mind and purpose. When the apostles receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they go out into the world to preach the one true message about Jesus.

The discovery of the Gospel of Thomas seems to contradict Luke’s description. The Gospel of Thomas, some scholars say, is early, possibly earlier than the Synoptic Gospels. Interestingly though, two of the most important aspects of catholic Christianity are absent in Thomas; the passion and the resurrection. It has thus been assumed that the early Christian community that created Thomas was not concerned with the passion, and perhaps, did not believe in the resurrection.

The Q Sayings Gospel, a hypothetical source for the shared material between Matthew and Luke, similarly calls into question the unity of the early Church on display in the book of Acts. Q, it is said, also lacks material about the resurrection and the cross. However, certain sayings of Q present evidence to the contrary. In my view, the Q community was not largely divergent from the Synoptic community.
One Q text is found in Matthew 12:39, with its equivalent in Luke 11:29.

An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Here, in response to unbelieving Pharisees, Jesus likens his own prophetic work to that of Jonah. Matthew, but not Luke, continues the thought “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth”(12:40). For Matthew, this is the obvious intention of Jesus in comparing himself to Jonah. Just as Jonah, Jesus will be redeemed from the grips of death and serve as a warning to the people. As a Jewish prophet, Jonah is unique in that his story is one of a kind of death and resurrection. There were many prophets of judgment Jesus could have identified with. If not for the reason that Jesus will also die and rise, why does Jesus identify specifically with Jonah?

Luke follows the Q verse with “For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation”(11:30). Luke and Matthew are in agreement. Jesus will become a sign in the manner that Jonah did. Luke’s logic of judgment falls apart otherwise. It is because Jesus will die and rise that Nineveh will be the rightful judge of this current generation(Lk 11:32). Nineveh believed the prophet who came out of the belly of the monster but the Pharisees will not believe the prophet who came out of the belly of the earth.

The verses in Matthew and Luke that follow the Q saying may be the creations of the late Church. Perhaps to interpret the sign of Jonah as they did, requires post resurrection faith. This seems highly implausible.

First, the verses in Matthew and/or Luke that proceed the Q saying may very well be from the Q document itself. There is absolutely no way to know when Q stops and the evangelist begins.

Second, in the minds of his Jewish contemporaries, “The sign of Jonah” would have heavily implied a kind of death and resurrection. What else could Jesus have meant by this? Why this prophet?

This, I believe, is strong evidence that the Q community, if it existed, thought of Jesus as the resurrected messiah, just as did Mark and the other Synoptic evangelists. There were no early Christian communities, as far as we know, that thought otherwise.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Follow Me

A rich man came to Jesus asking how he could attain eternal life. Jesus gives the expected answer; follow the Ten Commandments. Surprisingly, though, Jesus fails to mention the first four commandments. He lists those commandments regarding right behavior towards others but not those regarding right behavior towards God.

In these first four, idols and the worship of other gods are forbidden. Did Jesus think these commandments were irrelevant to attaining eternal life? Or did he just assume the man kept them because he was a Jew?

I don’t think any of these options work. Jesus did address these commandments but in an unexpected manner. A simple question would not have gotten to the heart of the man’s issue. Jesus knew the man did not recognize that his possessions were preventing him from worshiping God alone. Only a challenge would open the man’s eyes.

“You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me”(Mark 10:21).

Jesus does not giving him a new commandment about money, but reinterprets the old ones pertaining to God. The man’s failure consists in those commandments Jesus did not mention. His possessions are an idol, another god. He needs them and cannot part from them.

What is particularly striking about Jesus’ challenge though is not that he commands the man to give all these up. The striking thing is what he asks him to do afterwards. “Come follow me.” The claim Jesus is making is that once one’s idols are cast out, following Jesus is the way one worships God. For the man to follow the commandments he must give up his idol, money, and worship God alone.
To worship God, Jesus says, is to follow his son.  

This has implications on how we read the rest of Gospels. Jesus commands his followers to keep the Torah in Matthew 5:17-18, but he defines Torah in an unexpected way.

On the mount, he speaks of his teaching’s relation to Torah, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, not until heaven and earth pass away, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until it is all accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”(Mttw 5:17-19). And at the end of the sermon “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock”(Mttw 7:24). What we find is that The Sermon on the Mount is not another interpretation of Torah among many others. It is a redefinition of Torah. Jesus’ words are Torah.

Christians thus, are to obey Jesus’ words precisely because the Law and the prophets will not be abolished. Devotion to the Law must remain but its observance now consists in following Jesus. Jesus speaks the Law which the Torah was only a shadow of.

The first of the two greatest commandments then, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”(Mark 12:30) is made manifest by going after Jesus. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Brother Forever

The apostle Paul writes a letter from a prison cell. Handing the letter to his new friend through the bars, Paul tells him to take it home to his master. This friend is a runaway slave. Going home means severe punishment, maybe death. Why would Paul ask this of him?

The slave trusts Paul though. Paul has brought to eternal salvation. Perhaps Paul can now save him from his master’s wrath. Besides, as a slave he will not survive long apart from his master in the harsh Roman society.

He returns and hands the note to his angered master. While he anxiously awaits the verdict, he envisions two possible scenarios. His master may accept Paul’s message, welcoming him home, or reject it, tearing the letter up. Hoping for mercy but expecting punishment the slave waits.

Two thousand years later, this letter survives, canonized in the New Testament as Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. Though it is less than a page in length, this letter accomplished more for the slave than he could have imagined. It seems that even in prison Paul had his successes.

In writing the letter, Paul hopes to attain mercy for his friend, Onesimus. More than this though, he aims to transform the master’s entire mindset. He attempts this by offering this master, Philemon, to ascertain the significance the crucified Lord might have upon his relationship with Onesimus.  See, Philemon is also a Christian, a friend of Paul. He yet has something to learn from Paul about being a Christian.

For Paul, to become a Christian is to be adopted(Galatians 3:29). While a Roman man would adopt an orphan in order to acquire a male heir to ensure his family’s survival, Paul speaks of a God who has become the father of many adopted children at his own expense. In Jesus, the Gentiles have been adopted into the family of God. Acting as a surrogate for God, Paul speaks of Onesimus as his own son to make this clear to Philemon. Paul is adamant that Onesimus no longer belongs to Philemon. This slave is now Paul’s son.

I am appealing to you for my child, whose father I have become during my imprisonment(1:10).

Onesimus has been removed from one family and been grafted into Paul’s. As such, Philemon can no longer view Onesimus as his property. To do so would be to do violence to Paul. Philemon does not yet understand, but he and Onesimus are siblings, both graciously adopted by God. From now on, Onesimus and Philemon are not slave and master, but beloved brothers.

Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord(1:16).

Paul has made a claim on the life of Onesimus and brought him into his own family, the family of God, where “there is neither slave nor freedman”(Galatians 3:28). In doing so, he has pressured Philemon to act in light of this new reality. Paul asks only that he treat Onesimus as he would treat Paul. As his son, Onesimus is Paul’s very heart(1:12), and should be welcomed as if he were the Apostle himself(1:17). To do any less would be to reject the very one who brought Philemon his salvation. “I say nothing about your owing me even your own self”(1:19). Philemon owes everything to Paul, and thus everything to God, who adopted him out of grace. How can he offer anything to Onesimus but mercy?

Next, Paul asks Philemon to consider if he can treat Onesimus as a slave at all. He states that he desires his son, Onesimus, to remain with him from now on(1:13). Philemon is to complete a certain “good deed”(1:14). In light of Paul’s desire, this good deed should unequivocally be taken as the release of Onesimus from his bonds.

 Paul could demand this explicitly but he “preferred to do nothing without your consent”(1:14). Here he teaches Philemon to think as a Christian, to be transformed by Jesus. The truth is Paul has sent Onesimus back so that they might not remain estranged but be reconciled as brothers.

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, describes how brothers in Christ are to treat each other. In declaring the two brother, Paul is encouraging Philemon to ask what it means to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”(Philippians 2:5-8). What does it mean for Philemon to worship the Lord who took on the form of a slave?

The adoption enacted by God and made evident by Paul has radically altered the master and slave relationship, effectively replacing it with a fraternal one. One should ask, can slavery exist in any meaningful way between people who “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves”(Philippians 2:3)?

Paul has accomplished what he set out to do. He has entirely disarmed Philemon. Philemon may be able to demand retribution from a slave, but can he from a beloved brother in the family of a gracious God? How can he make demands of Paul’s child, when he himself owes Paul his entire life?

Having finished the letter, Philemon is running out of time to act. Paul writes he will be visiting him once he is freed from his own bonds(1:22).

Philemon takes a deep breath. His eyes slowly lift from the paper and onto Onesimus who is fidgeting, staring at the ground. Hearing those words never before spoken between master and slave, Onesimus lifts his face. “Welcome home, brother.”

Taking him into his arms, Philemon continues, “Our friend Paul needs you to be with him from now on. Let me give you money for your trip.”